Sunday, November 21, 2010

Other ways to donate to Child's Play

Fire Hose Games, the folks behind Slam Bolt Scrappers, give us another way to give to Child's Play this holiday season.  Here's the message, straight from Eitan (founder, creative director, fire chief):
Since everyone's got the spirit of giving going right now I thought I'd send out a notice about some charity work we're doing. We're auctioning off the naming rights to two of our characters in Slam Bolt Scrappers in the hopes of raising $$$ for Child's Play, the Penny Arcade charity for sick kids. 

Seeing as how this is a charity auction (and the starting bid is pretty high) I don't actually expect you guys to bid on this, but I would appreciate it if you could help us spread some word of mouth. If you have any channel that you regularly talk to the greater internets about stuff on we'd love it if you could give us a shout out to get some eyes on this.

Our eBay auction page is here, and you can read a post on our website about it here.

The bidding is already getting up there (at the time of posting $1025), while Desert Bus for Hope stands at $43,114.36.  Not a bad weekend for Child's Play.  There's (at least) one more opportunity to donate if you're in the Boston area in the near future: GP4CP is a night of gaming and giving on December 4th at the Microsoft NERD Center.  Check it out!

Discussion: Agency vs. Immersion

This week, Aaron and I sat down and had a little talky-talk about agency and immersion in games: What are these things?  How do they relate to each other?  What games have employed each successfully?  Have any games achieved high levels of both?  Find answers to these questions (err, well, we talk about them, at least) and more, after the jump!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let's Watch Desert Bus For Hope!

Back in August, I made a post about a game called Desert Bus and an event that has a masochistic group of geek-comedians marathon-play this nightmarish game for as long as donations roll in. While they play, people like us donate money to ensure their misery. These donations go towards the remarkable charity Child's Play, which was started by Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade.

Well, we are only a few days away from the big Desert Bus / charity event that is put on by the improv comedy team LoadingReadyRun (LRR). And I for one plan on (and hope you will too) virtually attending and donating.

Desert Bus For Hope is the name of this hilarious event. LRR not only plays this game for days, but they do it in inventive and often ridiculous ways, all for your much-needed donations.

Here's how it works straight from the camel's mouth (the Desert Bus For Hope FAQ is the camel's mouth):

Q: What exactly are you doing?

A: Put simply? We sort of invented the internet telethon by accident – you give donations to Child’s Play, and we play Desert Bus. It’s really boring and mind numbing and generally unpleasant. The more you donate the longer we play. To keep you and us amused, and to increase the donations we auction off and give away prizes, have celebrity guests stop by, and become your monkeys. Want us to sing “Still Alive?” Sure, we’ll do it for a $20 donation. We play 24 hours a day until you stop donating. Scary, isn’t it?

Need I say more!? Let's pull our spare change together and make a positive change in some kids' lives. Also watch LRR endure pure, delusional misery. I still haven't figured out exactly what I'm going to ask them to do. But it's going to embarass them. And I'm going to watch it happen.

Join me at Desert Bus For Hope, 9:00 PM Eastern Time, 6:00 PM PST.

Suck it, Trebek Duke

Upcoming mega-arcadey shooter Bulletstorm just got a new trailer.  And it seems like it's giving the ol' bird to Gearbox and Duke Nukem, at least a little bit.  It's embedded after the jump (NSFW language), but if you want some background, here's a bit about Bulletstorm: large guns, beautiful vistas, a cyborg partner, an energy whip and big points for combo kills.  And, based on the trailer below, a healthy serving of sass, too.  I was looking forward to this one anyhow and hadn't thought about it in this light, but it will definitely be interesting to see how Gearbox's upcoming Duke Nukem is affected by Bulletstorm's presence.  I suspect that Duke will still get a good bit of fan service, but Bulletstorm looks like its got some panache, too.  Either way, there will be some ultraviolence in 2011.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roaring Fires, Malt Beer, Ripe Meat Off The Bone: Digging Into Delve Deeper

What do a dwarf and a midget have in common? Very little. Bam! That's how we're going to start out this post. If you got through that much, the rest should be relatively painless.

So I played Lunar Giant's indie / rpg / strategy game, Delve Deeper. It's a unique and charming little mining game which puts you in command of a team of hardy dwarves hired by the hilarious dwarf king to fetch his gold, mithril and relics. But beware, there are monsters in the deep. Not to mention rival gangs of dwarves that are trying to beat you to the punch. It's a great concept for a game, especially since it landed right on the cusp of this mining craze (or this slightly older mining craze)!

How to Turn Your Lady Into a Gamer

Happy gaming couple dressed as Bill & Zoey from L4D

If you play games (and you should!), and you have a girlfriend who doesn't, you may have a problem. For some reason, non-gamers tend to view gaming as a pointless or "stupid" hobby (that's a topic for another day). If you spent your free time playing soccer and had a match once a week, your non-gaming girlfriend might respect that and even attend your games. If you are in a TF2 clan and you have a match every week...there's no way she's going to want to watch. She will probably sigh loudly with exasperation every time she sees you playing. You can probably forget about gaming more than 1 or 2 nights a week.

However, there is a solution to this problem! If your girlfriend becomes interested in gaming, you can play games together and she will no longer resent you for being interested in something other than her.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Well, I Tried - Hexen: Edge of Chaos

On Thursday, November 11, Hexen: Edge of Chaos, the Doom III mod that acts as a prequel to the original Hexen, was released.

Two days later I played it for about two hours and I simply can't go on any further. Not because the mod is bad, no! But because of a bug that trapped me in an area leaving me with no choice but to either start over or quit. And I chose the latter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Extra! Extra! Laser Romance Sells Out!

We just opened a store over at CafePress.  Go check it out!

Yeah, we know there is only one mug there right now.  It looks like this:

That is the only design we've got so far.  We're sorry if you don't like purple.  But we have a solution!  Tell us in the comments or via email if you want a different color, or if you want the robot lady instead of Abe, or if you want Abe to say something different, or if you want a t-shirt or a Stein or 500 stickers.  We'll hook it up on the CafePress store, no problem.

The boring stuff: we're charging as little as CafePress allows for the mugs (read: no profit for us), because we wanted to get these hot little items into your grubby hands as easily and cheaply as possible.  If you're interested, for some strange reason, in donating some money to our cause, drop us a line and we can chat.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bloodline Champions: 3rd Person DotA

Well, it's 3rd person DotA without all the extra crap (minions/mob, towers, items) and with fast-paced action and a strong focus on skill.  Bloodline Champions is a free-to-play team arena combat game, with each match consisting of a few quick rounds.  There are no critical hits, passive abilities or limited-range attacks.  Instead, Bloodline Champions features attacks with set damage and heals with set recovery amounts.  Players must aim each attack, predicting enemies' movements in order to score a hit.  Yes, that's right, no auto-attack.  Sounds like it's got a massively high skill ceiling.  I just got my beta key, can't wait to check it out as soon as I get home from work.

You can read an impression of the gameplay here or just go right ahead and grab your closed beta key (requires registering for a Games Radar account, which is free, just like the game).  Go do it!

Thanks for the tip, Yoss.

Epic's Infinity Blade Debut Trailer for iPhone Looks, Uh, Good

Many of you probably remember Epic Citadel, the tech demo that Epic released, which seemed to demonstrate a pretty damn impressive port of their ubiquitous Unreal Engine running on iOS devices. Well, now there's a game attached, and it looks similarly amazing. It's hard to tell what the gameplay is going to be like, other than something involving swiping the screen to slash with your sword. It also appears to have fighting-game style health bars on the top of the screen. Very mysterious.

Anyway, if you want further proof that the iPhone is apparently a pretty burly set of hardware, check out the video below.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Suggestion To Valve

Hire this man. In the spirit of all that Valve stands for, (which is to say brilliant minds, a sharp entrepreneurial initiative and just good, solid chops), I think that the immensely popular developer would do very, very well to start signing checks to James Benson.

(I especially like the thumbs-up)

This is nothing but a pet project for Benson, but he has certainly generated a great deal of attention to a nonexistent Half-Life 2: Episode Three. And I wouldn't be surprised if Valve noticed as well. Being only one man, he has successfully garnered a great deal of interest regarding a few of Valve's games. Remember the Dancing Team Fortress 2 video? That was Benson.

In the above embedded video, Benson appears to be challenging the preconceived notions of cinematics and player controlled situations, and how they act like oil and water in modern games. Benson seems to be saying, "Go on guys. I made this video. Now you make it a game." James, I applaud you for raising the bar so high!

A little fun conjecture on my part, but let's not forget that Valve has a history of hiring folks like James. See what I mean?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

CoD Black Ops: Best Ad Ever?

I was watching The Walking Dead today (you probably should have been too) and saw what is perhaps the best advertisement for a videogame ever. Even though I did preorder Call of Duty: Black Ops today on Steam, I'm not particularly excited for what has every appearance of being basically the textbook definition of Just Another Shooter. And frankly, this commercial did nothing to change that. But it still brightened my day just a little bit.

While I'm here, I'd like to remind everyone of what is (in my mind) the best game about the Vietnam war, ever: Vietcong. Featuring long, tense treks through the jungle, punctuated with sudden deaths by punji traps, tripwires, and occasionally bullets.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things That Make You Say "Awwww..."

That isn't the adorable kind of "Awww..."  It's the lamenting, disappointed kind.  As you may have heard, Steven Spielberg's collaboration with EA, a project dubbed "LMNO," has been cancelled.  Twice.  1UP posted an article about the projects history, The Story Behind Steven Spielberg's LMNO, and an accompanying visual target, which is somewhere between trailer and vertical slice of the game.  The article is a thoroughly interesting read, especially in light of Aaron's bit on games that won't be serious and the thoughts it stirred in me.  I take some amount of solace in the fact that, gone though LMNO may be, in 2012 we will be treated to another game strongly featuring the relationship between the protagonist and his charge.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Speaking of Derivative Games...

Following the release of Gears of War in 2006, there has been an outpouring of games featuring a core mechanic of third-person cover-based shooting.

Then, in early 2009, a wonderful thing happened to this proven formula.  A thing called 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand.  It is, in my humble opinion, a perfectly executed game.  Note that this does not mean it is a great game.  IGN's review of the Xbox 360 version opens, "Blood on the Sand is one of the most derivative, repetitive and downright stupid games we've played of late--and it's a hell of a lot more fun than anyone had any right to expect." Essentially, you play as 50 Cent (and a buddy can join you as another member of G-Unit) and tear through a nondescript Middle Eastern country, killing every man and helicopter you see, 'cause some jerk took your diamond encrusted skull. Which, obviously, was your payment for playing a concert.

Pringles, Achievements and 100 Percent

Often the question is asked, "Which came first, the Pringles, or the achievements?"  To find the answer, first consider the fact that potato chips are way older than video games.  Then, remember the days of your youth, spent watching Pringles commercials with catchy slogans about not being able to stop and then turning on your NES to play Battletoads or Duck Hunt and not being awarded with any shiny medals or titles no matter how much ass you kicked.

Yes, boys and girls, Pringles did indeed predate achievements in video games.  However, there remains one very important distinction between the two.  Pringles and their slogan of "once you pop you just can't stop" did not revolutionize the potato chip industry--snackers have long been emptying chip bags of their every last morsel.  On the other hand, achievements have changed video games forever.  Games used to be simply about getting a high score or finishing the story or completing all the levels.  Today, in order to be a member of the 100% club, you not only have to complete all of the levels, but you have to do so with a certain panache.  Oh, and find all of the secret stashes and perform a wide variety of tediously difficult and inane sequences of maneuvers, just because the developers said "jump."  They might have also said "Fakie 1080 McFlip to piercing an enemy's throat with your grappling hook, which you then attach to a fire truck and drag the enemy for 5 miles at the truck's top speed.  While underground."  Y'know, little kid stuff.

But, seriously: to "100-percent" a game is to demonstrate an absolute mastery, which inevitably leads to fame and fortune.  For some games (single player non-narrative games, for example puzzle games), this fits quite naturally and adds layers of difficulty and longevity to the game.  For others (narrative-driven single player games, like first person shooters), this quest for achievements detracts from the gameplay, agency, or immersion (or some combination of all three) with esoteric tasks and feats.  For multiplayer games and platforms ( and Xbox LIVE), achievements provide an arbitrary number to put next to users' names to indicate who, uh, has more time and motivation to see big numbers displayed on their screens.  Let's examine these one at a time.

New Snapshot Trailer!

I don't care that they used this joke in the trailer itself, I can't resist: the new trailer is worth 1,000 words.  Stop grumbling about how much you hate me and hit the jump for the trailer already!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Respect! "Realistic" Videogames and Their Insistence on Being Dumb

Alright, this was going to be one post, but apparently I have a lot more to say on this topic than I thought, so instead I am going to break it down into two sections. I now present:

Part the First: The Problem

So I was playing through the new Medal of Honor's wholly mediocre single-player campaign recently, and was struck by two things. The first thing I noticed was the game's impressive attention to detail: the animations, lighting, voice-acting and sound effects are all truly topnotch, and do a great job of putting you in the world of the game (technical issues notwithstanding, although they are myriad). The second thing I noticed was how stubbornly the developers refused to do anything with this game world they had clearly spent so much time to create.

That game world, incidentally, is the very real setting of the current war in Afghanistan, with the player taking the role of a number of American soldiers battling the Taliban in war-torn villages and insurgent bases in the mountains. I don't personally think there's anything inherently wrong with making a videogame set in a real-world conflict, but the way developer Danger Close has gone about it is disappointing, and frankly a little disturbing; namely, they have chosen to almost completely ignore the significance of choosing this setting, instead relying entirely on established modern first-person shooter tropes. The gameplay basically boils down to shooting, stealth-killing, or marking for destruction every single entity that you come across (standard fare for a game of this genre) while completely ignoring the motivations or implications of these actions in a setting that inevitably demands them.

While Medal of Honor is the first modern game to explicitly use a real-world, non-allegorical setting by name for its action, it is merely illustrative of a problem I've noticed for a while: videogames that set their action in any sort of “realistic” setting always seem to insist on ignoring the implications of that setting, and both the opportunities and challenges that come with them.

007 Gets The Modern Action Game Treatment and a Revamp

Hey, look!  Mr. Bond's next game Blood Stone (developed by High Moon Studios and Bizarre Creations respectively) is coming out on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in a couple days.  It's a 3rd person shooter with a slew of vehicle levels, environmental acrobatics, quick-time event melee attacks and high-octane action.  That said, based on the trailers I've seen and information I've read, it should be at least fairly fun and pretty, if derivative.

Honestly, though?  I'm much more excited for the just-released revamped GoldenEye (Eurocom).  This one stays true to the series' first-person roots and will be recreating a number of the locales we fondly remember from our auto-aimed days on the N64.  It's not just a remake, though, Eurocom has slapped Daniel Craig's face in place of Pierce Brosnan's and has reportedly been improving the gameplay and adding some new content.  Initial impressions that I've seen have been good and I am definitely excited to relive my first forays into multiplayer shooters.

Find the trailers after the jump.

Minerva's Den = PC Win!

(This news is a few days old, so if you've already heard it, move along - nothing here to see!)

Hey, PC gamers, have you seen this video before? Are you one of the many that felt abused and cheated on when 2K announced that the new Bioshock 2 DLC, "Minerva's Den", which was previously released on Xbox360 and PS3, would not be making it to PC? (Hit the jump if you answered yes!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ken Levine Demonstrates Intelligence Once Again

Last week, Kotaku held a PC-themed week. As part of that, they talked to a number of high-profile developers about their opinions about the future of PC gaming. Ken Levine, Creative Director at Irrational Games, participated in this aspect of the week.

Here are a couple of my favorite excerpts, but you'd do well just just head over to the post and read it in full 'cause it turns out that Levine is a smart dude:

"But when it comes down to it, as a gamer, I'm a PC. I like the kind of games you can play on it. I like that designers know they have your full attention, so they feel comfortable EXPECTING your full attention. I like the ergonomics of the thing, the mouse and keyboard, the effortless transition from gaming to browsing to typing. I'm an alt-tab kind of guy."

"What's the future of PCs?
Again, fuck if I know.
But here's something you can take the bank: If you want to know the future of gaming, buy a PC. And pay attention. Because above all, that thing on your desk is a crystal ball."

Zarf! An Indie Interactive Fiction Success Story

At last month's Boston Indies meeting, Andrew Plotkin (who goes by Zarf) stood up during the announcements that start every meeting and happily declared something like (I apologize to Andrew for any misquote, it was a few weeks ago), "I have been wanting to write Interactive Fiction for a living for a while now.  I'm finally doing it--I quit my job at Akamai and am going to write IF for the iPhone."  The applause and cheers were loud and raucous.  At the time, I didn't think much of it, aside from "Good for you, Andrew!  Get after it!"  I didn't know it at the time, but it turns out that Zarf is already an accomplished IF writer in his free time, notably including Spider and Web and Shade.

A few weeks later, Mr. Plotkin set up a Kickstarter page for his project and started sending it around, including on the Boston Indies mailing list.  Within hours, he had surpassed his $8,000 goal (intended to be reached by the conclusion of a month long period).  Now, some 48-ish hours later, he's at $15,496.  Almost double his goal!  Seems like at least a few people out there want him to do the unemployed thing and make the darn thing.

Hit the jump for Andrew's video and some details.

More Footage Of One Of Those Jetpack Games: Fire is Falling in Firefall

Color me titillated!

Here is some additional video footage of hot, burny, jetpackish good times (and yes, some already seen bits for you conspiracy theorists out there) in the exciting world of Firefall.

Firefall, Firefall, wherefore art thou Firefall? For your late 2011 release date does indeed inspire the thought of drinking poison. Join me in refreshing the Firefall page every three seconds!

Indie Roundup, Round 2

As a belated wrap-up to coverage of actual games during our Indie Games Week, here is another installment of Indie Roundup.  This one is quite a bit shorter than last week's, since I had approximately an infinite amount of catchup to do before.  The theme will be attempting to describe the games as the offspring of other games and media, for better or for worse.

Breaking news!  Just now, I have decided to make this an (approximately) weekly endeavor.  Callooh callay!  Yes, this does have the unfortunate side effect of meaning that Indie Games Week was a farce. It will be better remembered as "The First Week We Started Paying Closer Attention to Indie Games."  Next week will be a "indie games that I've previously purchased on Steam and have lazily not yet played" edition of the roundup.  While you wait with baited breath for that, let's dive into some trailers, details and impressions, of RunmanPrivates DLCKingdom of LoathingConfetti CarnivalJourney, and Rope Racket, after the jump.

Starcraft the Latest Frontier in Artificial Intelligence?

Gizmodo has an interesting piece up about a Starcraft tournament unlike any other: one in which every competitor is not a seclusive Korean 18-year-old, but in fact a computer. Apparently, according to AI researchers, Starcraft presents an interesting and unique challenge:

"Chess is hard because you need to look very far into the future. Poker's hard because it's a game of imperfect information. Other games are hard because you have to make decisions very quickly. StarCraft is hard in all of these ways," explains Dan Klein, an AI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and adviser to one of the tournament teams.
"An AI bot has to interact, reason about multiple goals concurrently, act in real time, deal with imperfect information - a lot of the properties of building robust intelligence are there," says tournament organiser Ben Weber, a graduate student at the Expressive Intelligence Studio at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

 Fortunately, so far the AI seems incapable of defeating an expert human player. But for how long??

Anyway, the full article makes for quite an interesting read. Check it over at Gizmodo.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Very Video Games Christmas Halloween

Minecraft was a popular source for Halloween ideas this year, as Justin demonstrated in his last post.  Not too surprising, considering the indie game's breakout success.  It turns out, though, that Minecraft isn't the only game out there to be honored by fans this Hallow's Eve.  Hit the jump for some links and pictures from homages worn by game developers and fans.

You'll Laugh, You'll Cry, You'll Post About it Online: The Fallout New Vegas Review

Fallout: New Vegas will make you feel like this guy.

Well, I finally finished playing through Fallout: New Vegas. My final play time came in around 40 hours, which is one of the reasons it's taken me so long to write this. The other reason is that I just can't decide whether I actually think it's a good game or not. Obsidian's sharp writing, paired with a zany assortment of clothing, ensures that your time in the Mojave desert will be filled with moments of hilarity. But an apparent lack of quality assurance or debugging will also probably force you to question whether or not it's worth it to press forward, and the even more important question of if it's possible to drink whiskey in a space suit.